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Living out my purpose in paradise


LOCAL Life asked Hilton Head Island resident Nannette Pierson to share her thoughts on what it means to be local. Pierson, an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, serves at Campbell Chapel AME. She started the Sandalwood Community Food Pantry in 2009. LOCAL Life welcomes letters to the editor and comments to our website. Write to [email protected].

Story by Nannette Pierson

LOCAL SINCE 2008 – Nannette Pierson is shown with three of her five grandchildren at Campbell Chapel AME, with pantry volunteers Elizabeth and Ana, and working at Sandalwood Community Food Pantry.

My family’s first visit to Hilton Head Island was over 30 years ago when we arrived with friends for a summer holiday. We realized on our departure that the most memorable vacations are the ones that you never want to end and can’t wait to return to. And so we returned for the next 18 years until I decided to finally make Hilton Head Island home. Why? Because I was certain that this was where I would live out my purpose in life. Many depart this world never knowing what they were called to do or question whether their living made a difference in the life of another. Hilton Head Island called out to me, and I heard and answered that call and continue to be blessed abundantly living in this beautiful and beloved community.

Amidst all the growth and expansion on the Island, the Lowcountry still remains a heaven on earth for me. Its beauty overwhelms me at times, whether on a quiet walk at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, or paddling my kayak on Skull Creek. I’ll reach a spot and stop for a moment, then suddenly, without even realizing it, I’m tasting salty tears that have fallen from my eyes, hitting the corners of my lips from simply standing or floating in the sheer beauty of the Lowcountry. Tears have always been my soul’s ability to express what words cannot when beauty overwhelms me.

While this Island remains a paradise for me, at times it also can be a paradise lost for too many of our neighbors in need who are trying to survive. Yet, this knowledge has never dampened my desire to do all I can to live out my purpose and make a difference in the lives of those hurting and hungry. People filled with poverty and sickness, often hidden and tucked away in a paradise, all too often are unable to see past their pain to the beauty that also exists in the midst of the suffering. And so, once again, I decided to do a small thing with great love and opened the doors of Sandalwood Community Food Pantry on February 17, 2009, feeding five hungry families at the island’s Sandalwood Terrace Apartments. Today, nearly 12 years later, we are serving hundreds of families throughout the year on Beach City Road. Why? Because I believe that passion, vision, innovation, collaboration and cooperation are the necessary ingredients to enhance the communities where we live, work, and play. With the support of this beloved community, we are making a difference in the lives of many. Seeing beauty, even when it’s not so pretty, when it’s not what one may have expected, and still doing all one can to empower a people to believe that hope is possible. 

While an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church serving at Campbell Chapel AME, I find the people I serve at the pantry are the ones who continue to teach me much about humility. They grace me with their friendship, gratitude and powerful witnessing, reminding me that people, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed, but never thrown out. There are no throwaways! Hilton Head Island, a place I have been blessed to live out my purpose in paradise, has a healing presence that allows me to see beauty, even when it’s not so pretty, and gain enormous strength as its magnificence sustains me from the inside when all else falls away. LL